The Healthiest Oils to Cook With
Education, Food, Food Truth, Nutrition Tips, Taste

The Healthiest Oils to Cook With

Did you know that cooking with the wrong oil can actually be damaging to your health?

Yep, I would say that the majority of people are unaware that how you choose and treat your oil can make a big impact on your health. Oils are composed of a delicate structure, which can easily be damaged by light, heat and oxygen exposure. As a result, they can become oxidized. Oxidized oils are essentially “rancid,” which cause them to be very harmful to your body. That is why we are going to talk about the healthiest oils to cook with.

Oxidized oils act as free radicals in the body, which are unstable molecules that “attack” other molecules in the body. Without proper antioxidants, this process can lead to extreme cell damage especially to the DNA of the cells. Free radical destruction is thought to be a major cause in all diseases including heart disease as well as a culprit in cancer and the aging process. That is why you hear how important it is to include antioxidants in your diet. While we will definitely focus on including antioxidants such as Vitamin E, Resveratrol and Turmeric in our diets, lets see how we can reduce free radical exposure by making better choices.

How are Oils Extracted?

Oils are categorized into two categories: refined and unrefined. The first step is to remove the oil from the fruit, seed, nut or grain source. Then the oil is heated by pressure to extract the oil. Depending on how hot the extraction process is, dictates whether the oil is damaged or not. Temperatures around 120-160 degrees is the temperature range where the oils stay in the best condition and retain the highest levels of nutrients.

Extraction

Expeller Pressed vs. Cold Pressed

Expeller pressing is a chemical-free mechanical extraction process. This process is an alternative to the toxic hexane extraction processed used in most conventional practices. While there is no external heat applied to this extraction process, the heat levels can vary depending on the substance, meaning heat levels can reach high levels.

Cold Pressed extraction is the same process of expeller pressed extraction, but it is done in a controlled environment to keep temperatures below 120 degrees. This process is often used for more delicate oils in order to retain their flavor and is the healthiest method available. Note: the only oils commercially processed in this manner are olive oil, peanut oil and sesame oil.

Refined vs. Unrefined

Refined oils are extracted by the use of toxic solvents such as hexane, and then it are bleached and deodorized. These oils have a higher smoke point but contain toxic residues from the process. The nutrients including Vitamin E are damaged throughout the refining process.

Unrefined oils are processed by cold-pressed or expeller-pressed methods and left in their virgin state after processing. These oils are more delicate than refined oils and have higher levels of nutrients present.

What Oil to Choose?

When choosing oil, we are not only looking for oil for its taste profile but also for its nutrient value. One thing we must look at is how the oil is made and packaged. Many oils on the market have been highly processed meaning they have been highly heated, extracted with hexane solvents and then treated with de-gummers and deodorizers. This leaves the oil to be extremely toxic, rancid and therefore, a potential culprit of free radicals. So what is the healthiest oil to cook with? This would a an unrefined, cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oil that has been derived from non-GMO, non-pesticided crops. 

Image by Shelf Life Taste Test

The Processed, Toxic Oils Include:

Canola Oil canola oil is a hybrid derived from rapeseed and probably one of the biggest misconception in the health food industry. You will see this oil marketed as a “heart-healthy” choice in many health food stores, including Whole Foods, but it is anything but. Canola oil is a GMO crop that is highly sprayed with pesticides. It is highly heated, extracted by using a petroleum based solvent, hexane; then bleached, and deodorized. This oil is most likely no healthier than a trans fat.

Corn Oil

Peanut Oil

Cottonseed Oil

Soybean Oil

Vegetable Oil

The Unrefined, Healthy Oils Include:

Flax Seed Oil

Olive Oil

Coconut Oil

Avocado Oil

EFA Oil

Sesame Oil

Hazelnut Oil

Pistachio Oil

Walnut Oil

Macadamia Nut Oil

Truffle Oil

Hemp Seed Oil

*Grape Seed Oil

*Sunflower Oil

*Safflower Oil

* Tend to be processed using toxic practices, so be wary when purchasing.

BTW: I left Palm oil off the list because its production causes detrimental environmental effects.

 

smoke point avocado oil

Oil Bottling and Storage

Light Bottle

Dark Bottle

The second thing to watch out for are oils that are packaged in light bottles. Believe it or not, many companies make a beautiful unrefined expeller- pressed oil and then package in a light bottle. What are they thinking? Light bottles allow light to come into contact with the delicate oil, which can lead to oxidation. And remember, oxidation leads to free radicals. Therefore, when looking for the healthiest oil to cook with are always going to purchase oil packaged in dark bottles (except for coconut oil- this is a more stable oil) and we will store them in a cool dark place.

Cooking with the Right Oil

Like mentioned before, cooking with certain oils can actually cause oxidation which can lead to free radicals from consumption. Therefore, it is vital that we choose the right oil for the type of cooking method that we are employing. Our choice is going to be based on the smoke point of the oil. The following is a guide to help you choose the right oil for the dish that you are making.

 

The Smoking Points of Oils

Below 212° F- Use: Boiling, Steaming, Simmering, Dressing or Finishing

Flax seed Oil, Unrefined Sunflower oil, Unrefined Safflower oil, Cold-Pressed Macadamia Nut, EFA oil, Truffle Oil, Unrefined Hazelnut, Pistachio Oil

Below 320° F- Use: Light Sauté, Low-heat Baking, Pressure Cooking

Unrefined Walnut Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Hemp Seed Oil

Below 350° F- Sauté, Stir-Fry, Wok 

Unrefined Sesame Oil, Unrefined Virgin Coconut Oil

Below 430º F- Baking, Searing

Ghee, Extra Light Olive Oil, Hazelnut Oil

*Below 500º F- Frying, Baking

Unrefined Avocado Oil, Expeller Pressed Grapeseed Oil, Refined Oils

* I do not recommend cooking on this high of heat, this is extremely damaging to the nutrients and creates toxins

Final Tidbit: You will notice that I have mentioned that Vitamin E is present in oil, this is a key fact because Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects against free radicals and most importantly prevents lipids in the body from damage. This is vital for all cell membranes and for cardiovascular protection. I get my Vitamin E from a Stabilized Rice Bran Powder called Tocotrienols.

 

Reference:

http://www.emro.who.int/publications/emhj/0402/21.htm

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7 Comments

  • Reply Food Info « Smiling in 2012 February 4, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    […] What oil to cook with – between what salt to use and what oil to cook with it’s brain overload!! […]

  • Reply Marie August 16, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Hey Lauren! I’m curious as to your opinion on the no-oil diet recommended by the doctors in Forks Over Knives? From what I understand all oils are around 100% fat and have virtually no nutrients and should always be avoided. What is your take on this? Thanks so much!

    • lauren
      Reply lauren August 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      Hi Marie, healthy fats are one of the most components of the diet and are needed for a multitude of functions in the body. They are the building blocks for cellular membranes, are needed for nerve and brain cells, are used to make hormones etc. Please read my article Glorious Fat: http://www.theholykale.com/2011/11/glorious-fat-part-i/

  • Reply Lisette June 3, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    Hello Lauren,
    My question (first of many on your site) is about oils you cook with. My mother insists on alternating grapeseed, avocado, and safflower oils. She refuses to cook with olive or coconut oil. I love olive and coconut oil but my just will not let me do it when I´m visiting. I live in Spain and well, we use olive oil for EVERYTHING! My mom is a clean eater and follows a diet recommended by her favorite radio nutritionist. This particular nutritionist has cautioned on using olive oil and coconut oil because the oil turns into the bad oil in your body. Is this true? By the way, mom doesn´t fry anything just simple slow cooking sauté. Thanks for your help

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale June 9, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      Hi Lisette, it all comes down to smoke (heat) points, which is when an oil is damaged by heat. Some oils have lower smoke points (meaning it can only tolerate low levels of heat before it is damaged), and some oils have higher smoke points (meaning it can tolerate high levels of heat before it is damaged). Oils such as olive oil have lower smoke points making them more easily damaged when cooking. When you eat a damaged oil, it is inflammatory in the body, therefore we always want to eat oils that have not been damaged. Coconut oil has a high smoke point making it best for cooking in high temperatures, but if you mother prefers other oils for sauteing, grapeseed and avocado should be okay. You can also use organic butter or ghee as well since they both have high smoke points as well. Hope that helps to clarify things 🙂

  • Reply star August 26, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    dosent unrefind hazelnut has much higher smoking point then extra virgin olive oil ?

    • Lauren The Holy Kale
      Reply Lauren The Holy Kale September 7, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      Sure does! Thanks for the catch.

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